Yesterday I watched my niece graduate from Osteopathic Medicine school. This demanding little girl has grown into a lovely, smart, funny and oh-so-appreciative young doctor. The graduation wasn’t too different from all the other ones I’ve attended, and the graduates didn’t appear much different from those I’ve walked the stage with, yet there was something else there. These young people were being conferred the recognition of their readiness to take care of patients, to save their lives, and tto care for them when they can’t be saved. This degree has come after at least eight years of college – a Bachelors degree and now this one. Many students had two B.A.s and some an M.A. as well. Now they are off to become residents somewhere, for another few years.
My niece has decided to become an OB-GYN, and will be delivering babies and taking care of women in two big county hospitals in Southern California. The Spanish she studied as an undergraduate has become a necessity, enabling her to communicate with her patients. She says that she can’t quite grasp that she is finally a doctor. When people ask her what she does, she just says she works in a hospital. Not everyone pushes far enough to find out what she actually does there, and that’s okay with her. Her profession carries a lot of baggage, it seems. While there is undoubtedly a good measure of pride involved (we’ve all met arrogant doctors, right?) there is also the fact that people treat doctors differently that they would if the same person was in almost any other profession.
Teachers are treated a little differently as well, I think. The reason for it is different, (seldom do we get asked how to conjugate a verb, and we definitely don’t receive the respectful awe a doctor receives) but the outcome is similar. If you say you teach English, people sometimes become uncomfortable, thinking you are judging the way they talk, or they tell you how much they hated English class in high school. Like you had anything to do with it, or like you care how they talk. Everyone has had teachers in their lives – some good ones and some who seemed to have chosen the career for the long summer vacations. Having attended school themselves, people feel qualified to expound on and judge the teaching profession. Everyone has an idea about how education could be done better; they complain about how greedy the teachers are, or how poorly the administrators manage the schools. The list of complaints is long, and the expression of appreciation paltry.
When I became an administrator two and a half years ago, I was overwhelmed at first by how demanding the job was. That was when I was Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction in a mid-size high school during testing and master schedule season. I had never worked such long hours. Then, I went to work at the District Office. While I had plenty to do there, the energy level was very different. It was so low-key in comparison to the school site. From the D.O I saw the work of a teacher more clearly than I’d seen it when I was in the classroom. Teachers work really hard for their money, and the time off – the little bit of it that isn’t spent doing continuing education – is necessary for survival. You absolutely need time to put yourself back together, to recenter yourself before you dive in again with a fresh crop of kids. But the expert former students out there miss this part.
Now I’m preparing to return to the classroom in the fall. I’ll make less money and work far harder than I do now, but I suspect I will feel far more satisfied at the end of the day than I have for a long time. I probably needed the downtime, but I’m ready to interact with kids again.